A Screven County textile plant associated with one of Georgia’s worst fish kills will be allowed to continue discharging wastewater into the Ogeechee River, according to the state Environmental Protection Division.
According to a new permit issued Friday to King America Finishing, however, the company must also adhere to stricter monitoring rules, reduce levels of key contaminants and conduct a feasibility study to determine whether land application of its wastewater would be a viable alternative to the river.
The company came under scrutiny in May 2011 after 38,000 fish died along a 70-mile stretch of the Ogeechee River.
The state’s investigation found the company had added a fire retardant treatment process that generated wastewater discharged to the Ogeechee River, in violation of its permit.
Last fall, in a consent order negotiated with the EPD, the company did not directly acknowledge responsibility for the fish kill but agreed to finance $1 million in environmental improvements to resolve violations discovered by regulators.
The new permit issued Friday was strengthened in response to a public review process that began with the issuance of a draft permit in February, said EPD Director Jud Turner.
“We appreciate the extensive input we received from the public during the comment period,” he said. “I am satisfied that this new permit addresses many of their concerns and recommendations and is protective of this valuable river ecosystem.”
Among the provisions, the company must continuously monitor its treated wastewater for pH levels, with an alarm system to alert operators to problems; and continuously monitor dissolved oxygen to maintain levels of 5 parts per million at all times.
New requirements added to the permit include: a daily maximum limits on formaldehyde of 1.6 parts per million, a formaldehyde measurement to be taken daily, and a limit to discharge suspended solids to a daily average of 650 pounds per day and a daily maximum of 1160 pounds per day.
An environmental group, Ogeechee Riverkeeper, criticized the EPD for what it contended was a weak punishment for the textile company. However, the group’s legal challenge was rejected after a judge concluded the group did not have standing to participate in the case.
That decision was reversed, however, in a July 23 ruling by a Bulloch County Superior Court judge, whose decision invalidated the consent order and sent the case back to the administrative court for further review.
The Riverkeeper group has also filed suit against the company in U.S. District Court, alleging the company had been discharging waste into the river for more than five years without a permit.